A protein bar makes for a great pre or post workout snack. But next time you tuck into one, spare a thought for the long and illustrious history of the lump of anabolic protein in your hand.
Many an indigenous person has lived on natural protein bars, some of which were no way near as tasty as ours. Here’s a what’s what of traditional ‘beastly’ protein.
Feeling peckish? You could do far worse for a protein boost than reach for a hunk of biltong. The original South African protein bar is a dried meat feast. Thin strips of game are first marinated in vinegar then rubbed with a mixture of saltpetre and spices before being hung up to dry. Today’s variants can contain a lot of salt but traditionally produced biltong is a low fat, high protein snack.
It was the European settlers who brought biltong to South Africa. Today’s snack was survival food for the ‘Voortrekkers’ – wagon travelling Dutch settlers who throughout the early to mid 19th century rolled north and east, away from their British rulers, in search of pastures new.
Borts and Aaruul
When the fabled leader of the Mongol horde, Genghis Khan died in 1227, he left behind an army of 129,000 warriors. During his reign, he conquered vast swathes of land founding an empire that went on to engulf most of Asia and Eastern Europe. As everyone knows, any army is only as effective as the food that fuels it. In Genghis’ case, that food was Borts and Aaruul.
The mongolian method for preserving meat is to cut it into strips, hang it up and air dry it. So desiccated does the meat become in the cold arid air of the plains, that when pulverised, the flesh of an entire cow can be condensed into a ball the size of a man’s fist. That’s Borts – a high protein feast.
Aaruul is milk solids pressed into cakes and dried. Once solid, the resulting cake can keep for decades. Good news for Ghengis. With every soldier carrying a couple of cows and the equivalent of the dairy counter at Waitrose in his saddle bag, supply lines could never become stretched.
Throughout most of the world, bugs are well and truly on the menu. And rightly so because not only do insects contain more protein than meat, unlike animals, they’re quick to rear, consume very little and create almost no harmful methane emissions.
For Westerners, the prospect of chowing down on a mouthful of insects comes with a certain ‘yuk’ factor. But now a pair of American graduates have come up with something new: the cricket bar. Not a reference to the gentle thwack of leather on willow, but slow roasted milled crickets. The cricket ‘flour’ is combined with other tasty ingredients to create the Exo bar. Tasty, full of protein and low in fat. Howzat?
Native Americans of the plains were the inventors of this potent protein bar. They’d fuel themselves through winter on it, hunt on it and even had special recipes for weddings and other ceremonies. In later days, fur trappers came to rely on it and Polar explorers crossed ice caps on it.
To make pemmican, simply bring down a buffalo, elk or deer, cut the lean meat into strips and hang to dry in the hot sun or over a slow burning fire until dry and brittle. Next pulverise the dried meat and mix with the same weight of rendered fat. Add dried, powdered berries for added vitamins and flavour, and pack into a rawhide bag. Tasty and nutritious, pemican can remain edible for decades.